Nova Scotians who rent out rooms to tourists using Airbnb and other websites may be breaking the law.

The provincial Tourist Accommodations Act lists a number of requirements, such as having a licence that starts at about $90 a year.

"In many cases, people don't know that the rules even exist," Patrick Sullivan, CEO of the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency, told CBC News.

Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) are popular sites with travellers looking for cheap accommodations and owners looking for extra income.

Listings run the gamut from posh private rooms to a night on a futon.

In Nova Scotia, the Tourist Accommodations Act requires hosts to register the business, be inspected by the fire marshal and acquire a clean water verification.

Sullivan said his agency only investigates complaints, and it doesn't get many of them.

"We don't actually have an inspection system. But what we do is we certainly follow up if someone reports to us, and generally that's a tourist or competitor," he said.

Fees

Registering any business in Nova Scotia can cost hundreds of dollars in fees. Insurance companies can also make demands that require spending money.

Who needs a fixed roof and campground accommodation licence?

  • B&B, guest homes
  • Hotels/motels
  • Cabins
  • Resorts
  • Hunting/fishing lodges
  • Campgrounds

Sullivan said anyone who violates the Tourist Accommodations Act can be fined, but he admits that's rare.

He said there are advantages to turning a spare room into a legitimate tourism rental unit. For example, only registered businesses are included in his agency's promotional material.

But there's also an appeal for tourists, he said.

"If I was a tourist I wouldn't want to stay in a place that hasn't been inspected by the fire marshal or may not have applicable water."